Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why do people live so much longer today then they did in earlier times?

I just read an interesting discussion on whether a person should go see a doctor when sick, or instead daven and ask Hashem to cure him. The discussion revolved around the opinion of the Ramban who seems to say in his commentary on Chumash that someone who has real faith should not go to doctors but rather rely on Hashem to cure him. In any case, even those who allow/promote going to doctors make it very clear that the person should feel that the cure is from Hashem and not really from the doctors.

This raises a very big question. The average life expectency in countries like the US and Israel today is around 80 years. In Classical Rome which was around the time of Chazal the average life expectency was 20-30 and if a child survived childhood his life expectency his life expectancy was 47.5. How can we explain the dramatic increase in life expectency, after all life and death are in the hands of Hashem? If all cures are from Hashem then how come in the last 100 years the efficacy of cures has gone up tremendously? It is very hard to say that our generation is more worthy as this is against the concept of ירידת הדורות, which postulates that previous generations were greater then ours (this is a subject for a separate post) and that we can't even understand how great the Rishonim were let alone the Tannaim and Amoraim. Why would Hashem want our lowly generation to live so much longer then the generations of Chazal who were so much greater?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Why is there no Maseches Chanuka?

Every other holiday (including Purim) has it's own maseches why not Chanuka?

A number fo answers are given:

1. The Rambam asks a similar question, why is there no separate maseches dealing with Tefillin and Mezuza and Tzitzis? The Rambam answers, the halachos of tefillin, tzitzis, and mezuzos, as well as the nusach of tefillah and several other areas of halacha are not included in the Mishna at all because these halachos are well-known to the masses; there was no need to include them. Some acharonim say the same applies to Chanuka as well. IMHO, this Rambam is very difficult, hilchos tefillin for example are very very complicated, the masses might have known the basics but certainly not the details. Similarly, why would Chanuka have been more well known then Purim?
2. It was not included in the Mishna for political reasons, Rebbe did not want to upset the non-Jews
3. One of the most famous answers given to this question is by the Chasam Sofer, who is quoted by his grandson Rabbi Shlomo Sofer in the Chut Hameshulash as having said many times that the reason why the miracle of Chanukah is not in the Mishna is because Rabbeinu Hakadosh was a descendant of David Hamelech and the miracle of Chanukah was through the Chashmonaim who illegitimately took away the kingdom from the descendants of David. Since this was not to his liking, he omitted it from the Mishna, which was written with Ruach Hakodesh.
4. EVen when Torah Shebaal Peh was written down, it was b'sieved and therefore they tried to minimize the information written and leave some things as Torah Sheb'all Peh. Some explian teh idea of חיסורי מחסרי in the Gemara with this. Chanuka, which is a holiday that has no basis in Torah Shebichsav, is only Torah Shebaal Peh, was left out for this reason.

In truth, none of these answers are very convincing, the question is better then the answers.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Avos were not very good fathers to their sons

When you read through the parshas in Sefer berishis, it's hard to escape the conclusion that the Avos did not do a very good job with their sons.


Avraham had 2 sons, while Yitzchak turned out fine, Yishmael did not. Avraham had to kick him out of his house because he was a danger to Yitzchak and he certainly did not follow in his fathers footsteps.


Yitzchak also had 2 sons (froim the same mother) and again, one went completely off the derech. The Gemara in Bava Basra says the following about what Eisav did on the day that Avraham died. 

Rabbi Johanan said: "That wicked [Esau] committed five sins on that day. He dishonored a betrothed maiden, he committed a murder, he denied God, he denied the resurrection of the dead, and he spurned the birthright." (Baba Batra 16b)

This is not just going off the derech. Chazal describe Eisav as a truly evil person and yet Yitzchak couldn't see it all and in fact, even wanted to bless him. How could such an evil person come from a father like Yitzchak?


While none of Yaakov's sons went off the derech there still was tremendous dysfunction. Yosef's brothers were ready to kill him, and in the end sold him off as a slave expecting to never see him again. 

What can we take from this? On one hand it is refreshingly honest (unlike current hagiographies of Charedi gedolim), on the other hand you can't help but think, these people were not the super giants that Chazal made them out be. They were just like us, they were jealous, they had sex drives, they got angry, they made mistakes, etc. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Questions on Parshas Vayeishev

This parsha like many of the parshas in sefer Bereishis raises many questions.

I. The brothers and Yosef

The Torah describes how the other brothers hated Yosef and plotted to kill him. When push came to shove they didn't kill him but instead sold him into slavery. The question is obvious:

How could the brothers simply decide to kill their brother out of what is described as jealously? What does that make the brothers? Many of the mefarshim explain that they made a Beis Din and had a din and paskened that Yosef was chayav misa for various reasons (for example as an eid zomem). This is of course very difficult for a number of reasons:
  1. There is not even a hint in the text of such a thing
  2. How can you have a din torah against someone when he is not present to defend himself? What kind of din is that?  The chumash states explicitly that they decided to kill him before he arrived.
  3. If they did actually have a din torah and pasken that he was chayav misa how could they then not follow through with the gezar din and instead sell Yosef as a slave? 

II. Yehuda and Tamar

The Torah relates that after the death of his sons Yehuda is traveling and sees a woman who thinks is a prostitute, he negotiates a price for her services, has sex with her and leaves. He then tries to find her to pay her and can't. The later meforshim ask how could Yehuda have sex with a prostitute it is an issur d'oraysa. Some answer that he actually was mekadesh her and married her. That answer IMHO is pure apologetics, the Torah clearly states that Yehuda thought she was a prostitute, would Yehuda really marry a random prostitute he discovered on the road? 

Reuven and Bilha

After the death of Rachel, the Torah says that Reuven slept with Bilha his father's pilegesh. Most people are familiar with teh Gemara in Shabbas 55b that states כל האומר ראובן חטא אינו אלא טועה and that Reuven didn't really sleep with Bilha and they paint this as THE opinion of Chazal. However, that same Gemara says that whether he actually slept with Bilha is כתנאי, a machlokes tannaim and there are tannaim who state explicitly that he did sleep with Bilha. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Charedi father tries to explain Chanuka to his son

I saw this online, it is very funny because it is so true. It really shows the hypocrisy and how much change Charedism has introduced to Judaism. 

אבא חרדי ליטאי מסביר:
- אבא, איך ניצחנו את היוונים?
- בעזרת השם.
- אז בשביל מה המכבים?
- הם היו רק החיילים. השם עזר להם בעזרת השם, וברוך השם הם ניצחו.
- המכבים היו חיילים?!
- אה... חיילים של השם, צבאות השם.
- אז המכבים היו חב"דניקים?
- לא! לא! חס וחלילה!! הם היו ליטאים.
- ליהודה המכבי היה נשק?
- כן.
- אז יהודה המכבי היה חילוני או גוי?
- חס ושלום, מה פתאום חילוני או גוי?!
- אבל רק חילונים וגויים הולכים לצבא.
- פעם גם דתיים היו הולכים לצבא.
- למה המכבים הלכו לצבא ואנחנו לא?
- כי היום התורה שומרת עלינו.
- ואז התורה לא שמרה עליהם?
- אולי תלך עם מוישי לקרוא קצת משניות.
- המכבים למדו משניות?
- למדו תורה. הרבה תורה.
- ולא עבדו?
- חס ושלום.
- אז אנטיוכוס נתן להם כסף?
- לא. הם עבדו והרוויחו פה ושם.
- בשחור כמו דוד יענקי?
- יענקי לא עובד בשחור!
- אז במה עבד מתתיהו?
- הוא היה חקלאי.
- מתתיהו היה תאילנדי?
- ד' ירחם, מה פתאום תאילנדי.
- אז איך הוא עבד בשדה עם חולצה לבנה?
- ומנין לך שלבש חולצה לבנה?
- מוישי אמר לי שיהודי אמיתי הולך רק עם חולצה לבנה.
- אתה מבלה יותר מדי עם המוישי הזה. אבל הוא צודק.
- מה רצו המכבים?
- הם רצו מדינה יהודית עצמאית, שהם ינהלו אותה.
- זה גם מה שאנחנו רוצים?
- כן, אבל אסור לנו להגיד את זה. אנחנו לא ציונים.
- אבא, אני רוצה להיות מכבי, ציוני, חייל!!
- געוואלד! מה קרה לך?!
My translation into Yeshivish:
A Yeshivish Charedi father tries to explain Chanuka, A. are the fathers points/answers Q. is the sons questions/statements

Q. Tatee how did we defeat the Yevanim
A. B'Ezras Hadhem
Q. So why did we need the maccabim?
A. They were just soldiers, Hashem helped them and Baruch Hashem we won
Q. The Macabim were soldiers?
A. Ah, yes, they were soldiers of Hashem, Tzivos Hashem
Q. So the Macabim were chabdniks?
A. No, no! Chas V'Shalom, they were yeshivish
Q. Did Yehuda Hamacabi have a weapon?
A. Yes
Q. So Yehuda Hamacabi was a Goy or not religious?
A. Chas V'Shalom, why would you think he was a Goy or not religious?
Q. Because only Goyim or non-religious Jews go to the army
A. In the past religious people also went to the army
Q. Why did the Macabim go to the army and we don't?
A. Because today our Torah protects us
Q. And then their Torah didn't protect them?
A. Maybe you should go learn Mishnayos with Moishie
Q.The Macabim learned mishnayes?
A. They learned Torah, a lot of Torah
Q. They didn't work?
A. Chas V'Shalom
Q. So Antiochus gave them money?
A. No they worked and made some money
Q. Off the books like Uncle Yanki?
A. Yanki doesn't work off the books!
Q. So what did Matisyahu do?
A. He was a farmer
Q. He was from Thailand?
A. Hashem Yerachem, why would you think he was from Thailand?
Q. So how did he work in the fields with his white shirt?
A. How do you know he wore a white shirt?
Q. Moishie told me that a real Jew only wears white shirts
A. You spend too much time with Moishie, but he is right
Q. What did the Macabim want?
A. They wanted an independent Jewish state that they would run
Q. Is this what we want?
A. Yes, but we can't say that, we aren't zionists
Q. Tatee, I want to be a Macabee, a zionist, and a soldier
A. Gevalt!!! What happened to you?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Chanuka and the miracle of the oil

One of the questions that bothered me for a long time about Chanuka was the text of Al Hanisim. It makes no mention whatsoever of the miracle of the oil. How can it be that the only addition to the davening that we make for Chanuka makes no mention of the main miracle of Hanuka? As I got older, I found out that that neither Maccabees I nor Maccabees II make any mention of the miracle of the oil. In fact, Maccabees II offers the following explanation for the celebration of 8 days of Chanuka:

And they celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the feast of booths, remembering how not long before, during the feast of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. Therefore bearing ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. They decreed by public ordinance and vote that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year

It is only the Talmud Bavli some 600 years after the events that first mentions the miracle of the oil. According to R' Dr. David Berger the talmud is the only source for this miracle, it is not mentioned in any other source. 

Of course there are various apologetics to explain this but IMHO the simplest answer is that there was no miracle of oil but rather they celebrated 8 days commemorating the war victory and rededication of the Beis Hamikdash and the miracle of the oil was "invented" later". It is well known that many cultures have a festival of lights around the winter solstice, therefore the celebration of the military victory/rededictaion probably involved lights as well. After the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the loss of sovereignty the Rabbis decided to invent the miracle of the oil to justify continuing the celebration of Chanuka. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

R' Shteinman - Haredi girls learning University studies is like a pig with a shtreimel - continued

This comment to the article on Kikar Hashabbat sums up the situation perfectly:

גם אני הייתי.

היה מקסים,גם אם תכלס לדעתי כל הרבנים חזרו על אותם המילים פלוס מינוס,והרעיון בעיקרו קצת תלוש.

בסמינר מחנכים אותי להקים בית של תורה,להיות אשת אברך שרק ישב וילמד ואני אפרנס אותו,

איך זה מסתדר עם זה שמביאים לנו רק לימודי הוראה וגננות שכולם יודעים שאין בזה עבודה?

אני הרי לא אפרנס את בעלי בכנסים,מרוממים ככל שיהיו.

אני חושבת שאם באמת רוצים למצוא פתרון שיביאו את הלימודים לבית יעקב במסלולים כשרים,או שיחפשו מכללות שהן כן בסדר.אבל לשלול הכל מצד אחד ולא לתת פתרון ראוי מצד שני ,לא יחזיק מים.אולי שנה או שנתיים בנות יחזיקו,לא יותר.

I was also there.

It was great, and was very to the point. All of the Rabbis said teh same thing plus/minus but the idea is not realistic. 

In school I am being taught to create a house of Torah, to be the wife of a kollel man who will only sit and learn while I will support him. How will that work if the only options in school are classes in education or to become a pre school teacher (Ganenet) when every knows there are no jobs in these fields? As uplifting as these conferences are, I cannot support my husband with them.

I think that if they really want to find a solution, they should bring additional tracks in the Beis Yaakovs or they should find colleges that are ok. However, to simply say no without providing an alternative solution will not hold water. Girls will last maybe a year or two no more.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

R' Shteinman - Haredi girls learning University studies is like a pig with a shtreimel

There was an anti-academia conference of the Haredi spritiual leadership for girls where the leading Rabbis went on as to how girls must only learn in Beis Yakkovs and that academia was a terrible thing.

The Haredi leadership is burying their heads in the sand. There is a financial crisis in the Haredi world in Israel. The problem is very simple, the men sit and learn and make little to no money and the women need to go out and work and support the family on the very meager salaries that they can make without an academic degree.

Here are some of the statements of the Rabbanim at the conference:
R' Moshe Hillel Hirsh Rosh Yeshiva of Slabodka:
There is no doubt that the situation today makes it hard for households to function. On one hand the woman doesn't make enough money to afford more then the bare minimum and on the other hand the husband is an avrech kollel who barely makes any money. There are no answers [my emphasis]. By the way I have to say that thank god there is an initiative by American Baal Habatim to provide money to many families
... [he goes on to explain why Beis Yaakov is so important and why it can't change]

Unbelievable, he admits he has no answer for the financial situation but still will do nothing. Relying on American Baal Habatim is not a realistic solution.

R' Yitzchak Zilberstein said:
Rachel Imenu sat on the idols and didn't burn them. She wanted to denigrate the wisdom of the other nations, she didn't want to burn them, rather to teach the Jewish people, I don't need any outside wisdom and therefore she was priviliged with having Yosef who astounded the world with his wisdom which was solely torah based. 

We have to instill in our daughters: A jewish home that is free of any trace of non-Jewish wisdom and learns only Torah will never be hurt.

This is unbelievable and WADR stupid.  Who in the Haredi world is astounding anyone today with their wisdom? What has Haredi Jewry really contributed to the world? R' Zilberstein uses the fruits of non-Jewish knowledge every day of his life, whether it's electricity, telephones, cars, modern medicine, etc. This reminds me of this Could Shlomo Hamelech have invented cars? and this Could Shlomo Hamelech have invented cars II?

Mishpacha magazine in Hebrew recently published a column Where have the Yiddishe mamas gone? lamenting the fact that so many mothers are not home in the afternoon to greet their kids coming home from school, rather they are out of the house working and the kids are suffering because of this.

A week or 2 later the magazine devoted a whole section to responses mostly from women who were fed up. The basic point was how dare you blame the women! The women pointed out that they have little choice. The schools have brainwashed them their whole lives that they should only marry a kollel guy and that they need to support him. Then when they go out and do that they get blamed for not being good mothers. What can they do? If they don't work, they won't have money to pay the rent, buy food, etc. If they do work, they are neglecting their children. To top it off, they are also brainwashed to have as many kids as they can as fast as possible so their expenses keep on going up and up without an increase in income and making it harder to actually work.

I really believe that the Haredi world is ready to explode. The financial stresses are continously rising and no one in the leadership is offering any answers. In fact, the leadership is condemning those who are trying to solve the problem by getting an education and making a good salary.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Apologetics about the role of women

See Will women's subordinate status be changed in Messianic Era?

My biggest takeaway from this is that like with every other important theological issue there is no consensus. Her thesis that today's women have changed and that is why they are not satisfied with their roles and want to become more intellectualy involved is clearly in dispute. Again on a critical issue there is absolutley no consensus and in fact there are radically conflicting opinions. What does ths say about the veracity of orthodoc Judaism?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How could Yaakov have slept with Leah and thought she was Rachel?

In this weeks parsha ויצא, we have the famous story of Lavan tricking Yaakov into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. The Torah says that Yaakov only found out in the morning that it was Leah. That is  very hard to swallow. Yaakov had sex with Leah and thought she was Rachel? Really??? Can you imagine having sex with someone (who you knew very well for 7 years) and thinking they were someone else (if you were not really drunk)? He loved Rachel and worked 7 years for her and yet on his wedding night couldn't figure out it wasn't her? This also raises a halachic question, there is a halacha that a בן תמורה, a child born from a sex act where the husband is thinking about another woman, is considered פגום (see the Gemara Nedarim 20b). This would seem to be exact the case with Yaakov, he had sex with Leah while thinking about Rachel. Yet, nowhere is Reuven considered to be פגום.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Questions on Parshas Toldos

Toldos has always been one of the most difficult parshas for me because there are so many questions/inconsistencies that crop up.

I. Did Esav have free will to not be a Rasha?

If we look at Rashi at the beginning of the Parsha it seems that Esav had no free will and was a Rasha from before birth. 
  1. Rashi quotes the famous medrash that when Rivka walked by a house of idol worship Esav tried to get out (to worship avoda zara). Let's think about this. Esav is not even born yet, has no yetzter hara and yet wants to worship Avoda Zara. 
  2. Rashi on ממעיך יפרדו writes that already from when they were in the womb they were separated one (Esav) לרשעו and one (Yaakov) לתומו. Rashi writes explicitly that Esav was a rasha already in the womb. 
From the above Rashis it is clear that Esav had no free will to be a Tzadik rather he was a Rasha from before birth. This of course contradicts the fundamental principle in Judaism of free will.

Yitzchak and Rivka in Gerar

Because of a famine Yitzchak goes to Gerar and uses the same tactic as Avraham, introducing his wife as his sister. However, this raises a number of questions:

  1. Yitzchak was famous, he was the miracle child of Avraham who was very well known and who in fact made a treaty with Avimelech. Given that, how does Avimelech not know that Rivka was his wife? After all, Yitzchak was a miracle child born to Sara at 90 (and Avraham at 100) and they had no daughter. So how could Yitzchak pass Rivka off as his sister? Also, you would think that Yitzchak's wedding would have been a big event.
  2. Avimelech discover that Rivka was Yitzchak's wife by observing them having sex (see Rashi). The Meforshim on Rashi raise the obvious question, this was a gross violation of tznius. You aren't allowed to have sex during the day and even at night it is supposed to be pitch dark. So how could Avimelech have seen them? 

The Berachos

Towards the end of his life Yitzchak wants to bless his son, Eisav. Rivka however, wants the blessing to go to Yaakov and therefore uses subterfuge to cause Yaakov to get the beracha. This raises a number of questions:
  1. Rashi explains that Eisav fooled Yitzchak into thinking he was pious. However, the Medrash (and Rashi) portray Eisav as a really bad person, a murderer and an adulterer, how gullible could Yitzchak have been to want to bless Eisav? In fact, the Torah tells us that both Yitzchak and Rivka didn't like his choice of wives. What does this say about his "daas torah"? 
  2. Why couldn't Rivka talk to Yitzchak and explain the situation? In parshas Lech Lecha, Sara tells Avraham to send away Yishmael and Hashem tells him to listen to Sara. Why couldn't Rivka talk to Yitzchak and explain the situation? Why did she have to deceive her husband?  Even later, after the berachos, she still doesn't tell Yitzchak the truth. Instead of saying that Eisav wants to kill Yaakov, and therefore Yaakov should run away, she tells him that she wants Yaakov to marry her relatives. 
  3. How can a beracha gotten by deception actually work? Yitzchak thought he was blessing Eisav not Yaakov. Is a beracha magic? 
  4. What is the rationalistic explanation of the whole story/idea of the berachos? How do they work?